Gulls wake early. And they sound hungry, very hungry, screeching complaints of empty belly. Our bedroom is on a wharf overlooking a working lobster dock and the lobstermen head out early, between 4 and 5 am, and in doing so, they get the gulls riled up and being riled up, being scavengers, they set out screaming like a small rodent being crushed under heel; all the more violent it seems at 4am. But really, one should not complain about waking up on the water in Maine.
I walked into town early this morning to get the Sunday Times and coffee. I poked around the fish market though no one sets up on Sunday; but found a man pushing a grocery basket down Commercial Street. It was a third high with collected cans and bottles, residue of a Friday night downtown. There is a 5 cent bottle return in Maine.
“Can you spare me any change,” he asked.
His face was tan. He was short and wore a clean white tee-shirt. I had a dollar or so in change I gave him. I asked if he was from Portland. ”Massachusetts,” he replied. “But I worked with the Coast Guard here. He motioned to the harbor. “Fifteen years and see where it got me. How this country takes care of its own. It’s a crime.” I thanked him for his service to the country and noted that the bottle return was a sound environmental policy. He said he makes up to five dollars a day returning cans and bottles.
“I saw my girlfriend back there,” he offered, nodding down the street. “She won’t stay with him long.”
“Your ex?” I asked.
He nodded. I asked when they broke up.
“Yesterday. But she’ll come back. I’ve got a fifteen hundred dollar check coming. It’s overdue now…”
It was suggested to me two or three years ago to visit Five Islands if I wanted a true taste of Maine. The suggestion came from my friend, Franz Hanson. I met Franz in 2000 while fishing in Chile where he guides Patagonia rivers during the North American winters and Maine rivers during South American winters. We’ve fished together in both hemispheres. He said Five Islands was the real deal. So yesterday we headed out in search of true Maine, south on Route 127.
It was not until we got into the village of Five Islands that the cars started to back up, drivers searching for places to park. Two portly women were leaving the gravel lot, wearing large sun-shielding hats, brims bending back from the ocean breeze; their peddle-pushers, as my mother calls them, creaping up with each advance of their ample thighs. Across the way a carload of kids from Pennsylvania spilled out of an SUV. When I saw all this I thought that perhaps Five Islands is no longer the secret it once was–or maybe living in the wilds of Patagonia poor Franz’s perception of unspoiled civilization was twisted. Nonetheless, asphalt is for me the rubicon of touristy interest. If a venue is paved all is lost. The parking lot at Five Islands is gravel. On we marched.
The lobstermen were oblivious to the tourists. The lobster boats were dirty and smelled of fish. The woman behind the window taking orders was pleasant and sun tanned and had the thick working forearms of a farmer or a gymnast or an oyster shucker. Good signs all. We ordered, sat at picnic tables and ate. The claims were large with sweet bellies and the onion rings were world-class. Visit Five Islands if you get a chance. Turn back if they’ve paved the parking lot.